Why do people value pointless work?

I really don’t understand why people value extra pointless work. Here’s an example:

I don’t much like cooking, so when I do cook I tend to use pre-chopped veg, rather than spending ages chopping carrots, onions etc. It’s very much easier than chopping veg myself, and gives me a good chance of cooking reasonably often.

When I say this to people, they often look incredulous, and look at me as if I’m doing something terribly wrong or cheating somehow by buying pre-prepared veg. It’s very bizarre. Often people tell me I’m spending too much money on pre-prepared veg. I’m not. It’s pretty cheap these days; also, if I’m just cooking for myself, the portions work out better. Sometimes it’s probably a bit more expensive, but I’m willing to pay extra to avoid doing something I hate. I’m also paying for extra free time, since pre-prepared veg saves me about 15 mins per meal. It not very different to people who pay extra to take the bus/drive to work because they don’t like walking.

Money isn’t the real reason people seem to object though. They often seem to think I’m being lazy or somehow cheating by spending loads of extra time chopping vegetables. It’s very very odd.

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9 thoughts on “Why do people value pointless work?

  1. I think it actually makes the food taste different. The prechopped vegetables are often already dry, or soggy and slimy. There is a time savings involved but as you get cost savings plus better flavor I’ll do the other stuff if I’ve got the time.

    Overall, I think this does not support “why do people value pointless work” – I personally would vote for “why do people make their beds every day?” as I never do it unless I’m going to have people parading through my bedroom on the way to the garden or something like that.

    As a final note (and as someone who cooks quite a bit), I find the chopping of stuff extremely relaxing.

  2. I buy only organic, local veg. The difference in taste to the bland, dried out, soggy or otherwise unpleasant prepared veg is massive. It takes me under 5 minutes per day to do, tastes much nicer and even if I bought the supermarket veg I think that would be healthier. I have tried carrot sticks and things before and they just taste vile!

    I also enjoy it. I like making my food from scratch and knowing where everything came from. Today I baked bread, for example. This weekend I will bake more bread, some biscuits and will make some curd cheese. I also make jams, pickles, chutneys and preserve any extra veg that I realise I am not going to use up (or make it into soup if suitable)

    Considering how important food is, I can’t agree it’s pointless work. Pointless work is digging holes to fill them up again without any other use, not preparing healthy food!

  3. I find people strange this way. They tend to subconsciously relate the value of non-employment work in monetary terms, because of capitalism and all. So as an example they assume buying prepared veg is ‘too expensive’. But they rarely actually work out if that’s the case. They put a monetary value on effort without ever knowing they’re doing it, then do it really, really badly.

    Of course if you go down that road and want to get it right, you have to put a value on your comfort or discomfort, stress and ease, quality time and useless time, ‘tasty organic’ versus ‘a little dry with preservatives’, and a thousand other things.

    But I remember it being a revelation when I realised it was actually cheaper –fvo ‘cheaper’ set out above– to pay someone else to service my motorcycle, fix my house, or come and clean once a fortnight.

  4. Personally I’m a fan of the pre-chopped veg mix (usually broccoli, carrots, cauliflower), partly because of the time saving, partly because it comes in the right quantity. Whilst it’s true that some freshness is lost due to the time in packaging, if I bought the raw ingredients it’d take much longer to eat them so they’d spend up to a week in the fridge instead of being used same / next day.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8572009.stm

    suggests that there’s a loss of vitamin C and folic acid (so says the head of the British Nutition Foundation who you’d hope would know). As I’ve a pretty serious orange juice habit I’m not overly worried about the vitamin C.

    Given that the cost of a pack of mixed veg that feeds two is about £1, the absolute maximum extra cost over chopping it yourself is £1. If that saves 15 minutes then you’re paying no more than £4/hour for extra free time. That’s about the same magnitude as buying DVD box sets instead of watching it on a channel with adverts (usually ~ £20 for 22 episodes, you save roughly 15 mins per episode = £4.50/hour).

    However, using a dishwasher / washing machine probably wins out. Having a cleaner is pretty competitive (given they’re about twice as quick as me this is roughly £4-5/hour plus I really hate doing it). Gardening for some reason is nowhere near as cost effective to outsource.

    That said, I mostly heat my house with wood which involves chopping things up with a circular saw, carrying about a tonne of wood around the place, lighting fires etc. But I think that’s fun, most other people outsource it to the electricity or gas company, netting themselves a cost and a time saving by doing so.

  5. We have been using pre-chopped veg a lot recently, especially onions which are a pain to chop. There are trade-offs – prechopped veg does not last as long in the fridge as whole vegetables, they can be expensive and may not be as nice.

    However, the big plus is that it makes it easier for D to cook if he’s had a bad day. I am definitely in favour of them being available at reasonable prices because it makes it much easier to get fresh veg into your diet if you are disabled or limited in time/energy to cook for any other reason.

  6. Having spent a month playing World of Warcraft, I think people really do value pointless work. The game relies on getting people to do tedious but simple and easy tasks and then saying ‘well done, you’ve completed your task!’ (over and over again).

    I think there is something pleasing about having simple and easy tasks you can stand back from and say ‘I did that rather well’, regardless of whether it was the sort of task that would seem ‘worth it’ to an unbiased outside observer.

    I’ve chopped by own salad when cooking for others and I do get a sense of satisfaction out of it. I’ve quite often made a simple baked potato and salad meal for people staying with me and cutting up the salad is one of the few things that really makes it feel like I’m putting any effort into an otherwise effortless meal. I’ve been almost disappointed when told they don’t want salad because then I’m left with doing something that doesn’t feel very rewarding.

    I think I’ll just have to put my hands up to this part of my psyche being irrational :o) Still, the desire to ‘achieve stuff’ is part of my genera work ethic so it’s not all bad.

    There’s a certain sense of an ideal Utopia in which technology gives everyone exactly what they want without any effort or work being involved. Sounds great but that would presumably be hell for anyone who can’t get a sense of achievement out of pointless work.

  7. I thinkm the answer to why people value pointless work is difficult, but you could try Ruskin on the dignity of manual labour – he got his students out digging roads – and consider how that led to Pol Pot making surgeons plant rice . Or maybe not, dependent on how depressed you are currently feeling.

    The vegetable thing is much more straightforward. If you are feeding a family on a fixed budget the price difference between chopping them yourself and buying them ready chopped is significant so you dont see the extra work as valueless.

    Lisa x

  8. IME a big part of this is people’s financial assumptions being out of date. In, say, the past 15 years, pre-chopped veg has gone from being very expensive to only slightly more expensive than un-chopped veg.

    Also, the value of time vs money changes depending on your situation. e.g. the main person who grumbles about this to me is my dad. He’s living on pension+benefits, and has lots of free time — so it makes sense for him to buy cheap things that take more work. [I’m all for this in theory. less so when he’s asking me to make an extra supermarket trip to save 20p on sugar]

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